"Port of No Return"

"A year after Hurricane Harvey, Port Arthur is fighting for survival. Will Texas' disaster recovery process push residents deeper into despair, or help lift them out of it?"

"On a Friday morning in mid-May, Beatrice Sanders stepped outside her FEMA trailer to find a port-a-potty parked in her driveway. At first, it seemed like a wonderful surprise, and perfectly timed, too — it was, after all, her 71st birthday that weekend. Maybe, Sanders thought, the portable toilet’s sudden arrival meant that a work crew was coming. Was someone finally going to fix her crumbling house?

Hurricane Harvey dumped about 50 inches of rain on the Texas-Louisiana border last August, flooding the humble three-bedroom house Sanders and her husband bought more than 40 years ago in Port Arthur’s Montrose neighborhood. But in truth, she’d been waiting for a work crew to show up for the last decade. Harvey was her worst storm, but not her first. Hurricane Rita damaged the roof in 2005. After Hurricane Ike flooded their house in 2008, Sanders and her husband applied for disaster recovery money to help them rebuild, but the wait dragged on for years. Sanders says they eventually fixed what they could themselves. She was waiting for housing assistance funds from the state when her husband died in 2015. Two years later, she was still waiting when Harvey’s floodwaters nearly reached her roof and forced her to flee the city on a military helicopter. Sanders said her saving grace was her Chihuahua, Jake, which she smuggled into storm shelters in a grocery sack, feeding him vienna sausages to keep him quiet.

When she returned to Port Arthur in September, Sanders again attempted to navigate the dizzying disaster recovery bureaucracy, a system that changes with each storm. She asked officials, nonprofits and community leaders what she should do, but the mixed messages left her confused and frustrated. In early May, Sanders attended a city housing department meeting where staffers told her the process to apply for long-term help hadn’t even begun. One local official recommended she pray."

Michael Barajas and Sophie Novack report for the Texas Observer July 30, 2018.

Source: Texas Observer, 08/01/2018